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What I will never know

There are some things that I will never know.

  • As a man, I will never know many of the things that women know and experience. Of course, the reverse is also true.
  • As a single male celibate person, I will never know fatherhood, or motherhood, in the way a biological parent does.
  • As one “advanced in years” I can only imagine what it is like to grow up in the digital age. Just as those growing up today can never experience a childhood without an internet or a mobile phone. (What’s a modem, Mom?)
  • As a child of lower middle-class immigrant parents, I will never know what it is like to grow up barely surviving one day to the next … or…  as someone whose parents were very wealthy.

Going beyond a “uniform”

Yet, the challenge is not only to respect these differences but also learn from them. Perhaps the clearest example of that is the life-long task of respecting and learning from one’s partner through the many experiences of life.

The more we seek to understand the experience of others the more we will come to respect and learn from each other.

In this Vincentian Mindwalk, I would like to look at a specific experience of life that I will never have… the experience of having a different skin color than that with which I was born with.

I was recently struck by a description used by someone commenting on racism. When a person wears an identifying uniform of any kind, they have the ability to take it off each night. While they are wearing it they are identified by what that uniform represents. Often few get to see a reality that is much more than a uniform.

But for those who are born with another color than the dominant color of their society they are always known by their color… and the assumptions made on that basis.

What a tragedy! When we really see another person as a human being like ourselves we can understand that person is so much more than just their uniform. They have hopes and joys, their fears and failures, leading us to see them differently and learn the richness of their heritage.

Thinking through my reactions

We cannot respect and learn if we keep our eyes closed! Most of us are not keeping our eyes totally closed. But many of us are merely peeking at something that we know exists. The recent surfacing of so many questionable deaths related to assumptions is probably just the tip of the iceberg of discrimination.

There are so many ways that I as a person of a dominant culture cannot know what others are experiencing. Rarely have I had the experiences of not being seen as a person because of the color of my “uniform.” If I did, I really wonder what my reaction would be. I suspect it would be frustration at the least in not being accepted as a person.

The Congregation of the Mission is attempting to understand what our sisters and brothers are experiencing.

Here I share with you two ways my Province is asking me to open my eyes and heart. Although from different perspectives they speak about a reality of racism that is all to present in our society and even religious communities. Brother William Stover, an African American of our province has written a powerful description of his history in the past and the pain he experiences today. Fr. Marty McGeogh, pastor of our parish in Emmitsburg Maryland, reminds us of our heritage of discrimination not only as a church but also within our own province. (His homily begins at the 19-minute mark of the YouTube video.)

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

What I Can’t and Can Know